Each one who has given it away is probably not that significant on their own – and I reckon that’d be how they feel about it – but the combined weight of each person’s ‘failed journey’ or whatever you choose to call it can eventually become quite a load.
Maybe you say ‘its not my load to carry’ and that’d be true. And I don’t think I do carry it these days. But I feel it. I feel it in my heart as someone else says ‘I dunno… I just can’t keep going with it…I’m not sure I believe any more… I’m not sure I ever believed…’
And I wonder, ‘what do you say to that?…’ I’m not sure…
In my youth ministry days I think I felt an inappropriate sense of responsibility for the faith journey of those who were in our churches. When they gave it away I felt like I had failed them, or maybe just that I had failed. Maybe I had sometimes.
But young people are known for going thru phases and it appeared that some went thru their ‘church phase’ under our leadership. I never liked to see young people get baptised and then 6 months later say ‘ah, I’m over that now…’, but what’s harder is watching adults lose faith, give faith away or simply choose to let it go.
Usually for adults it starts as ‘giving up on church’ (and sometimes the reasons are even valid) and then moves to disillusionment with God and eventually to disinterest. The convenience of a life removed from God can be pretty attractive if your journey following Jesus has been particularly hard.
I see people give faith up for a whole host of reasons. Boredom with church is a biggie. The struggle to ‘attend’ a service or meet weekly with people with whom there is often little in common can get old quickly. When we make following Jesus primarily about church attendance we are in trouble, but this is the dominant paradigm in our culture so we have to work with it.
For some, life can turn to poo and God is an easy target for the blame. Depending on your theology God may even be the source of your pain. That presents some real theological conundrums. If God isn’t the cause then he is the person who could have done something but didn’t… not the world’s most loving father after all. A broken heart is a danger for some and an impetus for others. Some run from God when the world falls apart and others run to him. My hunch is that more immature Christians run away.
For some a non-Christian partner is like an anchor, a huge weight that means faith is constantly being dragged around and never enjoyed. Sometimes it may be easier to just quietly slip out of a church and not return. What makes that strategy even worse is that many single Christians who have made a huge effort to connect in church may go MIA and no one may notice. The absence of any follow up is a nail in the coffin of a sick faith. The hurt from that experience can leave a person ‘believing in God but not in church’.
Then there are those who just ‘never really got it’ in the first place. Good people who have been part of the church community, have shared the load in every way, but who in their quiet moments will admit to not being even sure if they believe. What do you do there?
I certainly don’t fight God’s battles for him any more. If you don’t want to believe then that’s ok. Go ahead. If you think God is actually evil and has done you wrong then I’m not sure I can change that either. I reckon he can stand up for himself if he needs to. If you signed up for the wrong gig and just want to get off the squad then I’m not going to stop you.
Sometimes I feel like I am being called on to defend God – to make sense of him in some of life’s most difficult situations. And I can’t do that. I can’t make someone believe. I can’t convince a broken heart that God is good.
I can listen, ask questions, speak of my own experience. I can share what I read in scripture of how God has worked in the past, but what I can’t do is flick a switch in another person’s heart that says ‘ok – I believe,’ or ‘ok I want to believe.’
A couple of conversations lately have sat heavily on me as I have realised people are exiting – leaving faith – and I can’t stop them. Nor do I think it appropriate to try and stop them.
I have been reminded in these times that our clever arguments are not the answer to the wounded, disillusioned or the disbelieving, but that prayer is the hope. Somewhere in the spiritual realm a battle is going on for the heart and its a battle that is only going to be won in the spiritual realm.
But each one that goes leaves a mark – causes pain and grief. I sense what I experience some days is the cumulative weight of that disappointment and of my own inability to fix it, but rather just having to accept that this is the way life is.
That’s how I feel.
I can only imagine how God feels.